MONTCLAIR, NJ – Dozens of federal employees and their families gathered at Toni’s Kitchen on Tuesday, where volunteers were on hand to serve a hot meal.

Federal employees, who are nearing the second missed paycheck since the government shutdown nearly a month ago, are left wondering how or if they will be able to recover from the longest government shutdown in US history.

A glimmer of hope for the employees and families affected is that community organizations, such as Toni's Kitchen, of Montclair, have stepped in to provide some relief.

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Many of the volunteers were also fellow furloughed workers, themselves, seeking to also assist others. Each family left with a bag of groceries and a gift card for additional groceries. 

Anne Mernin, Director of Toni's Kitchen, stated, “It is really amazing at how much the community is concerned and aching for these employees. People have done everything from donating food, groceries, and baking."

She added, "People have also stepped up with financial donations so that we can give a gift card for groceries."

According to published reports, the Senate is set to vote on Thursday. However, it is reported that neither Democrats or Republicans seem to have enough votes to end the shutdown on either proposed terms.

In New Jersey, nearly 5000 federal government workers currently without pay include U.S. Coast Guard, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) employees, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees, Air Traffic Controllers, Correction Officers, and the Federal Department of Agriculture employees.

On Friday, Sen. Robert Menendez held a press conference at Montclair Bread Company, located on Label Street, in an effort to hear the challenges faced by those affected by the shutdown. He expressed that he wanted to put faces to the numbers.

EPA employee, Carsen Mata, attended Menendez's press conference, with one goal in mind. She wanted to get the word out about the gathering at Toni's Kitchen for federal employees.

When the shutdown was announced, and then prolonged, Mata decided to reach out to other federal employees and local agencies to offer some assistance to families.

Mata expressed, “It felt only right mobilizing and organizing together and getting federal employees together.”

Like many others, she hasn't worked since December 28. Though friends and family have been helping her during this challenging time, Mata expressed that others may not have those supports.

Together with Toni's Kitchen, Mata organized the social event aimed at giving a hot meal and groceries, in a friendly, social atmosphere.

“This is about innocent people being caught in the middle. Hundreds of thousands of good people are being held hostage because of the situation. It’s just really unfair and disheartening,” she said.

Toni's Kitchen “We can’t solve the underlying problem, because people still have to pay their mortgage, have their kids go to preschool, and to buy medication.”  However, Mernin says she is hopeful that what they are doing is providing some relief to families.

“There are hundreds of thousands of Americans that are out of work, that haven’t gotten paid, that don’t leave their homes because they don’t want to spend money.”

“This is a tragedy,” continued Mata.

She and Mernin both thanked local businesses and individuals that have stepped into donate food and money.

For more information, email carsenmata@gmail.com or visit http://tk.slechurch.org/